Of the paintings in the Rijksmuseum, around 230 are still lifes. Life literally stands still in these arranged displays of objects, including shells, books, skulls and dead animals, as well as living plants and creatures: flowers, insects, and sometimes a human, dog or parrot. Flemish painters specialized in this genre already in the 16th century. The museum boasts beautiful still lifes by Jan Brueghel, who often collaborated on Rubens’ figural paintings.
Seventeenth-century painters went on to develop separate specialties within still-life painting. Jan Davidsz. de Heem painted primarily flowers and fruit, as evidenced by the exuberant Festoon, and Pieter Claesz and Willem Heda favoured displays of food, including the modest ‘ontbijtgens’ (breakfast pieces). Some types, such as the vanitas still life, contain references to the transience of life and the material world. This is the case, for example, in Pieter Claesz’s Vanitas Still Life with the Spinario. Emblematic still lifes were meant to teach the beholder a wise lesson, such as Johannes Torrentius ode to moderation of 1614.